As the playoffs wear on, the eliminated teams are entering an offseason filled with golf rounds and hot-stove strategery.
Meanwhile, the fans of those squads are looking at the prospect of spending the winter with the warm memories of a team that earned a playoff berth but the cold reality of ultimately falling short. In an attempt to bring some closure between franchise and follower, we're asking a blogger from each team to write a cathartic missive to their 2010 squads.
Next up among the playoff bounced is Alex Remington, Big League Stew's resident Braves fan. He still dreams of a day when he can write his "Numbers" column for a Braves' World Series appearance.
Dear Atlanta Braves,
I'm not mad, I'm just disappointed.
I guess I saw this coming. You weren't going anywhere in the playoffs, not with that offense and that defense. By the end of the season, you looked like you belonged in the International League.
Let's take the second-to-last day of the season, for example. That was practically a dress rehearsal for the NLDS. You got three-hit by a Phillies JV squad that included Vance Worley(notes), Antonio Bastardo(notes) and Danys Baez(notes). Brooks Conrad(notes) made an error that led to the first run of the game, which turned out to be the winning run. I believe that's called foreshadowing.
Oh, Brooks Conrad. You were one of the best things about the season. You were one of the worst. As Matt Diaz(notes) wrote on Facebook, the Braves never would have made the playoffs without you and your two pinch-hit grand slams. You were our most exciting pinch hitter since Julio Franco, and the phrase "30-year-old rookie" is goosebump-inducingly inspiring. But the reason you weren't a major leaguer at age 29 is the same reason you shouldn't be a starting player at age 30: You are a wonderful story, but you aren't a good baseball player. The only people who could possibly be happy about your Grand Guignol of bad fielding this past week are the 2006 Detroit Tigers, the previous high-water mark for butchery, and the umpires, particularly Paul Emmel, who called nearly every close play against the Braves — and some plays that weren't so close.
But it was an awesome last season for Bobby Cox, nonetheless. We knew we were rolling the dice on an aging, injury-prone team, from Troy Glaus(notes) and Chipper Jones(notes) to Takashi Saito(notes) and Billy Wagner(notes). We knew that we didn't have the most talented team in the division. But you kept winning, pulling out last at-bat victories — like NLDS Game 2, when Rick Ankiel(notes) redeemed a bad season with one swing — and we believed you had enough pluck to make it to the playoffs and then some. (I even thought you'd hang on in the division, but I didn't expect the offense to crater this badly.)
But boy, what a run we had. We spent three months leading the division and then clinched the playoffs on the last day of the season, after very nearly choking away a six-run lead. After five years in the wilderness, what once seemed automatic — October baseball in Atlanta — was mercurial, but ultimately ephemeral and beautiful.
And then it was gone.
After 162 games, it was clear that you had just about nothing left. Exactly three hitters from the opening-day lineup — Jason Heyward(notes), Brian McCann(notes) and Troy Glaus — started on the last day of the season, and Glaus was playing third base, where he didn't play at all during the regular season. You had just enough juice to stay in it, but nothing more: Every single game in the series was a one-run game, 1-0, 5-4, 3-2, 3-2, but scoring nine runs in four games just won't cut it.
In the end, Bobby Cox's last game was much like his last decade with the Braves, as he got the most out of his team, a team marked by great pitching and no offense, which finally went out meekly in the division series. I hoped for more, but I didn't expect anything. The 2010 Braves were a success story, and the lump in my throat doesn't change that.
There's a solid core in place for 2011 and beyond. Rookies Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel(notes) and Jonny Venters(notes) were already major contributors by the end of the season, and late callups Freddie Freeman(notes) and Mike Minor(notes) look almost ready. Baby-faced veterans Martin Prado(notes), Brian McCann, Kris Medlen(notes), Tommy Hanson(notes) and Jair Jurrjens(notes) are all 26 or younger, and under team control for at least three more seasons. They were good this year, and — if all goes well with the new manager — they might be better next year. Though that's a big if. Bobby Cox's shadow will loom large in Atlanta for as long as baseball is played there.
So, so long, Bobby. Thanks for one more trip to the postseason. We'll always be in your debt.
And please come soon, next season ... Pitchers and catchers can't report soon enough!
See you next April,
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Follow Alex on Twitter — @alexremington
Read Big League Stew's previous Dear John letters here.